Thursday, November 16, 2006
I’ve had all kinds of responses to my recent post on Rian Malan. It grew from a discussion that Seraj and I had on the original Malan article published in the Guardian over a month or so now the contents of which I found deeply offensive. This was strange for me – I don’t normally get offended that easily. What terrified me was how narrowly and blatantly ‘black-white’ culture Malan saw the world. It immediately made me ponder my own relationship with ‘black/white’, ‘culture’, etc. It also made me wonder about the necessary conditions for me to remain in South Africa vs. me leaving South Africa. That is something that warrants an entire post on its own, this post is more about what I’ve been thinking and doing and some of what fed into the Rian Malan article.
This is something which has been topical for me of late. I recently joined and am participating in a group called ‘un/common’ (name was my idea). The group burgeoned from individuals in Diversity Studies who wanted to take transformation, diversity, etc and talk to people about it. The then did a ‘protest’ (more a ‘we’ll wear challenging t-shirts and see who comes to talk to us’) on Jammie Steps. I spoke to them and started becoming involved. We discuss transformation, affirmative action, understanding diversity, the point being to talk about all of these things frankly and honestly, even if others find your opinions offensive. This is necessary in our young (and it is really young) democracy in order for us to be able to empathise with one another and for us to create an understanding that there are a myriad shades to how we share similar beliefs. The t-shirt that I wore to the next ‘protest’ had the following written on it: ‘oppress(or)ed’
This has all been in the light of another controversial issue in South Africa - the development of the Civil Unions Bill. The bill passed on Tuesday. It will constitute an act separate to the Marriage Act to provide anyone who wishes it with a Civil Union, be they a same sex couple or a heterosexual couple. However, the Marriage Act still exists in which it is only possible for heterosexual couples to be married. This is a very odd state of affairs. Religious interest groups and traditional leaders (such as The Reverend Napier, Kenneth Moshoe and several others) have all spoken out against the Civil Union Bill. Rights activists on the other hand are up in arms that there is, once more, a ‘separate but equal’ nature to some of South Africa’s laws. There isn’t true equality.
I tend to side with the rights activists in having beliefs around equality – however I acknowledge that the right to religious expression is also important. The question therefore is which right is more important – we all know that discrimination in any shape or form is unconstitutional. So what that means then is that we need to adopt policy which does not discriminate. Which narrows the question – to what extent can one individuals right be impinged upon for another’s right to be upheld? Sho! That’s a difficult one. There is so much taboo around homosexuality, so much of what I call ‘religious noise’ (i.e. some religionists say one thing, another group says another – it becomes quite confusing to find consensus) that it is difficult for us to say anything unilateral around this. Listening to SAFm this morning (yes that is a bit grandpa I admit), they were discussing this topic. The one thing which I think was incredibly important and which the host Nikiwe kept on bringing up was ‘How does it affect you personally?’ This question would give us some measure. If I am a religious person in a specific location and some random homosexual couple gets married somewhere, how does that affect me? Does it affect me at all if none of my friends are homosexual?
This question tries to give some measure of the actual instrumental difference it would make to a religious person, which is why I like it. In my mind it is something that seriously needs to be asked of many individuals. How does it affect you?
Simon Halliday: It affects me because I have homosexual friends. I really want them to be happy and happiness in many peoples’ lives is rooted in having a family. Hence, I want them to be able to have families, which is dramatically a function of marriage either under common law or under the auspices of some traditional or religious body. On a more personal level I want to have the pleasuring of seeing my children play with their children. I want us (my homosexual friends and I) to share experiences and joys in a non-discriminatory environment. The Civil Union Bill affects me directly.
Ok. Um… I need to work on my dissertation now and on Admin for ECO2003P Summer Term (I am now convening the course with Justine in a supervisory capacity). The above isn’t terribly well argued, but it was meant more as a sharing of perspective more than anything else.
For those of you who are interested, I sent the previous post I wrote to the Cape Argus. They printed the ‘Comment’ by Rian Malan so I am hoping that they print my letter. If not, I will send it to the M&G. I hate to say it but, to some extent, the aluta does continua.
(Incidentally, Bob Herbert (NY Times) wrote today on Civil Rights in the US – commenting on the documentary ‘Eyes on the Prize’ (1987 recently re-released). The film presents various images of the bigotry and hatred towards black people in the US and the struggle that individuals went through for equal rights. I sincerely hope that this level of struggle is not necessary to win the rights of sexual expression).